Chicken and Vegetable Gratin

We have had a late season crop of yellow squash this year.  Yesterday I set out to find a recipe to use them and I came across a Zucchini and Cheese Gratin recipe in my Cheese cookbook.  However, I wanted to do a single dish meal just because it makes a whole less of a mess.  I did some searching online for Squash and Chicken Casserole or Squash and Chicken Gratin and every recipe I found used Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken Soup… yuck!  So last night with a reluctant husband, we set out to make my take on Chicken and Vegetable Gratin.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Whole Chicken or 2 Large Chicken Breasts
  • 2 Medium-Large Squash
  • 1/2 Yellow or Sweet Onion
  • 2 Bell Peppers
  • 4 Handfuls of Spinach
  • 1 Potato
  • 12oz Grated Cheddar, Gruyere or Parmesan Cheese  (we used cheddar)
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 4 Eggs
  • Bottle of Italian Salad Dressing (optional)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Cook chicken.  We cooked a whole chicken in the crockpot for 6 hours on low with a bottle of italian salad dressing.  Pull chicken from bones or dice cooked chicken breasts.
  2. Slice squash, onion and potato.  We used a mandolin.  Squash and onion were about 1/4″ thick and potato was about 1/8″ thick.
  3. Dice bell pepper.
  4. Grate cheese.
  5. Mix milk, cream, eggs, salt and pepper in a bowl.
  6. Begin layering in a greased large glass Pyrex.  You will make 2 layers of everything so use 1/2 for each layer.
    • Squash
    • Onion
    • Pepper
    • Spinach
    • Chicken
    • Potato
    • Cheese
    • Repeat
  7. Pour milk and egg mixture over the casserole.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes on 350.  Cheese should start browning on top and eggs should be set.

Chicken and Vegetable Gratin

Needless to say, the husband was won over with the fresh vegetables, seasoned chicken, cheesy layers and creamy sauce.

Garlic Sauce

This is one of my favorite sauces to make.  It is delicious, it is versatile, it is easy and it smells heavenly.  I used to make it for pasta, but now that we have made the move to paleo, I reinvented the main dish and used chicken and veggies instead of pasta.

The Sauce -

  • 1 head of garlic.
  • Olive oil (EVOO)
  • White wine (a little less than 1/2 a bottle).  I used a cheap Chardonnay.
  • 4 lemons, zest and juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Smash and peel each clove of garlic and throw it into a medium size sauce pan.  Add enough EVOO to cover the garlic.  Add the zest from the 4 lemons.  We are basically making a garlic confit sauce.

Turn on your burner to medium (I did 3/5 on my electric stove) and watch the oil start to heat up.  Watch carefully because we don’t want the oil to get too hot and burn the garlic.  Once it is just starting to bubble turn it down to low (I left my burner on 1).  Now just leave it for about 30 minutes.  I like the garlic to look a light and toasty brown.

Bubbling Garlic Sauce

Bubbling Garlic Sauce

When you come back in about 30 min the garlic should be starting to break down.  I now use my whisk to continue to break up the garlic and whisk it into the olive oil.  The sauce should turn slightly milky in color.

Add the lemon juice and white wine.  Let it simmer for another 15 minutes or so.  Whisking occasionally.

Completed Garlic Sauce

Completed Garlic Sauce

The Accouterments -

  • Chicken.  I used boneless, skinelss thighs because I think they have a better flavor than chicken breasts and they fit in our budget since they are cheaper at the grocery store by $2/lb.
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Parsley, chopped (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)

Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  I decided to grill them so I also coated them in olive oil.  Alternatively they could be sauteed in some olive oil.

The Assembly -

I filled my bowl with a mixture of arugula and spinach.  Then I topped with the hot garlic sauce so that the greens would lightly wilt but not fully cook down.  I topped with the chicken, parsley, and cheese.  Voila!

Chicken and Greens with Garlic Sauce

I love that this dish is so packed with flavor from the garlic sauce to the spicy arugula.  We did not miss eating this with pasta one bit.  Pasta would have just filled us up without adding anything; it would have hindered the awesome convergence of flavors.

DIY Wedding – The Food

To succeed at a DIY wedding and making your own food you will need some help.  We enlisted the help of my mom, brother and good friend Devi for a Sunday afternoon of cooking.  We prepared as much food as we could the weekend before the wedding.  We were able to then freeze the food and start it defrosting a few days before the party.  We prepared enough food for about 50 guests total.  I should also note that to make the day-of food preparation stress free we decided to do the party the day after the ceremony.  We returned from the ceremony late the following morning and had time to eat lunch and relax for a few hours before we started preparing the day-of food.  I think we were all a little surprised at the amount of time we had and how smoothly getting the food out went.

Me and the husband-to-be hard at work.

The menu-

  • Orange Salad
  • Italian Wedding Soup
  • Stuffed Shells
  • Lemon Chicken
  • Salad
  • Cheese Platter
  • Cupcakes

We splurged a bit on a cheese platter from a local cheese shop in town, but the cheeses were delicious and the presentation phenomenal.  We also purchased mini-cupcakes from a local cupcake lady in town.  We went for mini-cupcakes so that people could easily have a bite (or several bites) and easily try the various flavors.  However, the rest of the food we made ourselves.  Most of the food was able to be prepared ahead of time and frozen.

The orange salad we prepared the day of the party-

  • 4 navel oranges
  • 1/4-1/2 of a fennel bulb
  • Fresh thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Slice the oranges to about 1/4 inch thick.  We used a manolin.  Top with chopped fresh fennel, thyme leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Orange Salad

We made chicken meatballs for the Italian Wedding Soup so that our chicken-only friends could eat them.  Here is the recipe for 3lbs of ground chicken (you can increase/decrease as necessary)-

  • 3 lbs ground chicken
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 9 garlic cloves chopped tiny
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients and form into small meatballs.  Cook in olive oil for about 10 minutes until cooked through.  Lay on a cookie sheet with parchment paper and freeze.  Once frozen you can put into a freezer safe ziploc or container.

On the day of the party, finish the soup-

  • 3 lbs chicken meatballs
  • 6 qts chicken stock
  • 2 bunches of a leafy green such as kale or escarole, wahsed and chopped.

Heat the stock and add frozen meatballs to start defrosting.  A few minutes before serving add the leafy green of your choosing.

Stuffed shells I think of as a classic dish to make and freeze ahead of time.  We made some with pancetta following Giada’s recipe and some meatless.  My brother chopped so much parsley his eyes started tearing.  In total we made 6 trays of stuffed shells.

Stuffed Shells

The final dish we prepped was lemon chicken.  We egged and floured then fried the chicken.  In hindsight, the floured and fried chicken did not hold up well to reheating so I would recommend simply cooking the chicken ahead of time.  Other than that the lemon chicken was delicious.  We followed a recipe from Tyler Florence.  We made 3 trays of lemon chicken.

Lemon Chicken

The day of the party was a breeze.  We did the party on the day after the ceremony so we would not be rushed preparing the food between the ceremony and party.  My friend Devi picked up and brought the cheese platter to our house.  The cupcake lady delivered and displayed the cupcakes.  I luckily have a double oven so I was able to put 4 trays of stuffed shells in one oven and the 3 trays of lemon chicken in the other oven about 2 hours before guests were supposed to arrive.  Although we took the trays out of the freezer 4 days before the party, the trays were still a little frozen which is why we gave them 2 hours.  My mom prepared the green salad and my husband prepared the orange salad.

We used disposable plates and bowls, but silverware we bought at Sam’s Club.  We decided to do disposable plates and bowls because it is hard to purchase enough and they take up a lot of room in the dishwasher.  The silverware was inexpensive and could fit in a single dishwasher load.  We also used pint glasses for beer (my husband buys one everywhere we go so we have no shortage) and jelly sized mason jars for wine.  Again we decided to use glassware because we had enough and they are easy to run through the dishwasher.

Glassware and Silverware

I think the combination of homemade and catered worked.  The cheese platter would have been a good amount of work to put together ourselves and for us was worth purchasing from the local cheese experts.  Neither of us are good bakers and baked goods are difficult to prepared in advance.  Also there is no way we could have decorated anything with the amount of detail she did.  We did have a good amount of leftovers, but I’d rather have too much food than not enough :-)

Cheese, Soup and Cupcakes

Cheese, Soup and Cupcakes

Paleo Fruit Tart

On Memorial Day we went to a friends house for a BBQ.  What better dessert to bring than a fruit tart with raspberries, blueberries and strawberries?  Is there a more patriotic and summery looking dessert?  I think not.

Berry Tart

Fruit Tart

Our friends, Anna and Chris, own White Buffalo Kitchen and like us avoid processed foods.  My berry tart started with a recipe from a friend that I then paleo-ized with some help from PaleoOMG.  The original recipe called for a cream cheese base, which I replaced with a custard inspired from PaleoOMG.

The Crust-

  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1/3 cup honey syrup (from White Buffalo Kitchen)
  • 3/4 cup frozen/cold butter (could replace with coconut butter or ghee)

Grease the bottom and sides of a tart pan with butter, ghee or coconut butter.

Mix the almond flour and honey syrup.  The consistency should be lightly moist.

Cut in the butter.

Press into the bottom of a tart pan and bake on 350 for 15-20 min until slightly brown.  Let cool.

The Custard-

  • 5 eggs whisked
  • 1/3 cup honey syrup (from White Buffalo Kitchen)
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 lemons juiced
  • 1/2 orange juiced

Whisk together all ingredients.

Heat a pot over medium heat (on  my electric stove I had the burner set to 3.5/5) and add the custard.  Whisk continually until custard thickens to desired consistency.

(Alternatively whisk custard in a double boiler for a potentially smoother and creamier consistency.)

Let cool in the fridge for about 20 min.

The Final Assembly-

Once the crust and custard have cooled completely you can spread the custard on the crust.  Then top with fruit.  We used raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, but other options are kiwi, bananas, cherries, peaches, etc.

3 Paleo Tips

Changing your diet is always hard.  Initially, I was miserable with the Whole30 program and my switch to paleo.  Now that we completed the Whole30 we are sticking with the paleo diet.  Here are 3 tips and tricks that helped us complete the Whole30 and stick with it.

Cauliflower Rice

The first time I ate cauliflower, EVER, was in January.  We made a curry and instead of rice, we used a recipe from Well Fed, to make cauliflower rice.  It enhanced the flavors of the curry.  I realized that I never ate rice or pasta necessarilly for the flavor they added to the dish, but rather as a sauce soaker upper.  Now whenever I’m making a dish and I want to have something soak up a sauce, I use cauliflower rice.  The other week we made pork souvlaki from Michael Symon which has a delicious marinade.  Instead of pasta or couscous, I made cauliflower rice with some fennel seeds, fresh garlic, and italian seasoning to soak up the extra marinade.  Definitely don’t miss regular old rice anymore.

Just Use Chicken

I grew up eating a lot of pasta.  In fact, I still eat it, kinda.  I’ve found that if I’m craving a comforting tomato sauce pasta dish, I can just cook up some chicken breast with salt, pepper and garlic and put tomato sauce right on top.  I’ve used this technique with a couple of different sauces and it’s a great way for me to still enjoy those “pasta” dishes and sauces with eating any pasta.  Another favorite is pasta primavera.  We follow this recipe but instead of roasting the zucchini with the rest of the veggies we make zucchini noodles.

Licorice Root & Herbal Tea

When we first made the paleo switch I was always thirsty and sick of drinking water.  I tried seltzer water with lemon or lime which helped somewhat.  Finally I started making more herbal tea for something flavorful to drink.  My favorite is mint tea with licorice root.  Licorice root actually adds sweetness to the tea.

Paleo – Kinda My Style

I wanted to hate this diet.  In fact, I hated it for the first 2-3 weeks.  I didn’t want to give up pasta and bread forever.  However week 3 into week 4 I started to notice some improvements.

I was sleeping better.  I would fall asleep around 10:30 and when Desi woke me up at 5:30 I was ready to get up and start my day.

My energy level and mood stabilized.  During the day I didn’t have energy crashes or mood swings.  This is what I really wanted to achieve with the diet.

I feel healthier.  I didn’t lose pounds, but I lost 2 inches around my hips and 1 inch around my waist.  My percentage body fat dropped by 1%.  When I started the diet I didn’t even know I had some “weight” to lose.  I didn’t change my workout routine, but I did feel more excited to exercise (probably because of my improved energy level).

So now the big question is if I’m going to stick with it.  I want to, perhaps a little more relaxed than the full Whole30.  I might have a glass of wine with dinner a few nights a week.  I think we will add aged cheeses back in (cheddar, parmesan), but hopefully less than we were eating before.  I wanted to add milk back in, but I think I lost my lactose tolerance over the past 30 days.  Now I need to decide if I want to build up a tolerance again.  I want to wait to add grains back in.  If I do it would be a minimal amount.  We talked about doing Tim Ferris’ slow-carb diet with cheat day; one day a week we would allow ourselves to have dessert, pasta, etc.  I fear that the cheat day would just make me miss those foods all over again.  However, after eating milk and cookies one post-diet night, I can see that with a reminder of how some of these foods make you feel, you miss them a whole lot less.

The hardest part of this diet for me is eating with friends.  I don’t want to be “that” friend who everyone has to make special cooking considerations for and has trouble finding something on the menu to eat (which is silly because it doesn’t bother me finding something that friends can eat who do have dietary restrictions).  In general, it can be difficult for me to do something that I fear will inconvenience others in some way.  I also don’t like feeling like the weird/different one (you’d think I’d be used to this by now :P), as though I standout somehow.  However, eating right is really important to me so I think this is something I will just need to work on.

You cannot be all things to all people. Be unique. Be different. Give to others what you want yourself. And do what you were made to do. -Robert Kiyosaki

Balsamic Chocolate Cinnamon Apples (Paleo & Sugar-Free)

Main ingredients-

  • 4-5 medium to large apples
  • 4 tsp ghee (or butter)
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 tsp cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp syrupy balsamic vinegar (we used espresso balsamic from a local shop)

Optional ingredients-

  • 1 tsp almond or vanilla extract
  • 12oz Coconut milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 cup coconut flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

To make the apples-

  1. Peel and slice the apples as you would for an apple pie.
  2. Mix the cinnamon and cocoa powder with a pinch a salt in a small bowl.
  3. Melt the ghee in a pan over medium heat.
  4. Add the apples to the pan and cook until softened. They should start to juice a little bit and make a nice syrup in the pan.

    Apples Softened in Ghee

    Apples Softened in Ghee

  5. Add the cinnamon cocoa powder mixture and mix with the apples.
  6. Turn off the heat and add the balsamic. Mix until combined.

    Balsamic Chocolate Cinnamon Apples

    Balsamic Chocolate Cinnamon Apples

  7. Spoon into bowls. Optionally top with whipped cream and coconut flakes (below).

Optionally-

  1. Pour the coconut milk or heavy cream into a bowl with the almond extract. Whip until light and fluffy.
  2. Toast the coconut flakes in a pan over medium heat. Once lightly browned (watch closely- they will burn pretty fast) remove from the pan and toss with salt and cinnamon. (from The Clothes Make the Girl)
The Finished Product

The Finished Product